Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Mummy V Food

Isn’t it amazing the lengths parents will go to just to get their kids to eat? I have two crappy eaters. One of them has been a crappy eater since he was about a year old and the other one can’t really help it because, you know, reflux and stuff. But I realised today that I spend huge swathes of my time trying to persuade my kids to eat. Like, I’ve probably clocked up weeks – if not months – of time over the last two years trying to persuade small people to just eat.

It’s probably worth mentioning here that neither of my kids got teeth early. Or, actually, on time. Toddler Taylor cut his first tooth at ten months. Baby Taylor is coming up eleven months old now and he still has no teeth. He doesn’t even have the suggestion of teeth. So whenever I talk about my crappy eaters with other mothers and I hear “ooooh, have you tried baby-led weaning?” I want to fucking scream my head off. Or just scream “FUCK OFF!” if we’re being completely honest. Because I can’t let my baby lead the weaning process when he has NO FUCKING TEETH. That’s not really how it works. BUT I have tried pretty much everything else.

“Keep offering the same foods X amount of times to give your child a chance to develop a taste for them.” Yup. Done that. But, you know, there’s only so many times I can wash mushed up spinach out of my hair before I reach the conclusion that my kids just don’t fucking like spinach. I don’t blame them; I didn’t have much affection for spinach before I was in my 20’s and went vegetarian.

“Try adding milk to your baby’s food for a familiar flavour and gradually reduce the amount until you don’t add any milk at all.” I had limited success using this technique with Toddler Taylor, and adding milk to vegetables just seems gross. With Baby Taylor? Well, he’s on PurAmino formula, and as formulas go... I’ll be blunt here; PurAmino tastes like ass. I don’t know how he actually brings himself to drink it, because the few times I’ve tasted it have left me traumatised by the fact that anything supposedly edible could taste that bad. So adding it to his food seems like something that would just ruin the whole concept of food for him forever.

We could go on. There are a plethora of “expert” techniques out there, and I have tried most of them. I love experts... Do any of them have kids? Sometimes I wonder. Anyway, watching me actually trying to get my kids to eat can be a little like watching a poorly scripted sitcom. With Toddler Taylor, it goes like this:

“I’m a giant, mummy!”
“That’s awesome, baby. I made you broccoli pasta.”
“I don’t like broccoli, mummy.”
“I thought you were a giant? Eat your tiny trees.”

With Baby Taylor, I sing, pull faces, tap out a beat on his tray with one had while I wield a spoon with the other. Basically, anything to get him to open his mouth for long enough so I can shovel another spoon in. My husband finds it all completely ridiculous, but at least it usually works. If I'm trying to persuade him to finish his bottle of disgusting milk, it's like "You know what? If ripping out a chunk of my hair helps you focus on your milk then fine; keep yanking on it. It'll grow back." No kidding here; there's not much I won't put up with to get him to just drink his damned milk three times a day.

Here’s the thing though: Why do I worry about this so much? Seriously. Is it likely that either of my kids are going to starve to death if they don’t eat their broccoli pasta or mushed up orange stuff? No. Are picky children rare? No. Will my children always be picky? Probably not. I mean, if they end up being vegetarians someday like their father and me (which I actually kind of hope they will), they’ll probably eat pretty much anything that wasn’t previously sentient like we do. But right now I just dread mealtimes, and I find myself hoping it won’t always be like that. I hope that maybe one day we will all sit around the table together and I won’t have to keep reminding my kids to eat and refusing them dessert when they don’t. Because it always makes me feel so sad when I have to tell Toddler Taylor that he can’t have his favourite yoghurt because he didn’t eat his pasta/veggies/fish fingers. I really try not to make mealtimes a battleground because I know that doesn’t help, but I just fucking want my kids to eat so I can have one less thing to wake up in the middle of the night and worry about.

By all accounts, I was a picky eater as a child. Actually, I was quite picky for a long time. Long after I grew up and moved out, in fact. I used to drive my mother crazy with it. But did it have any detrimental effect on my health? No. I’m short, but I had short parents and was therefore predisposed to be short anyway. Otherwise I’m pretty healthy and I now try new foods all the time. It’s not something that I’m still struggling with and I’m sure the same will be true for my children. I think probably it’s my attitude that needs to change. Like, I can probably trust my kids not to starve themselves and me being neurotic about getting them to eat is just going to make them feel like eating is something to be neurotic about.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Why Hypothetical Baby = Actual NO

Before we get started: I am ever so very grateful for my two beautiful, wonderful children. Okay? Pease don’t forget that and feel the need to remind me about it because I AM.

Sometimes I’ll be driving along and I’ll start thinking that maybe we actually could cope with another baby, and I’ll wonder if perhaps we might even get a girl. I’ll start going over the dialogue in my head, how I would present the idea to my husband and I’ll think about the possible reaction I might get and how I would feel if he flat out rejected it. Then it hits me with a sickening lurch that seems to knock me sideways; another baby isn’t an option for us anymore. And it really doesn’t matter how many times I forget and subsequently remember that fact, the force of the impact never seems to be any less devastating. But we decided this. We looked at our options and we made this choice. And, truthfully, there are a lot of reasons why it was the right decision to make. Logical, sensible reasons with strong foundations in the reality that is our life together. But there are a lot of reasons why it was the totally fucking wrong decision too, and some days I find that I really resent my husband for how easy he found the whole thing. I know that’s really unreasonable. I’m self-aware enough to realise that. But here’s the thing about me; sometimes I am really unreasonable. And illogical too, a character trait for which this precise situation is a case in point.

Here’s a list of the things that would have to change for my husband and I to have another baby. It’s not a short list. In fact, it’s a list that falls just short of EVERYTHING.

I would need a new car. Probably some hideous people carrier effort with shitloads of seats and cavernous boot space for all the crap that I would need to cart around all the time. A new car would be expensive, and I just bought one that I really like and which suits our current family perfectly. I don’t want a people carrier.

We would have to move house. About six weeks ago we had a new bathroom fitted. It is a bathroom that I have been lusting after since ever we bought this house and the bloody awful bathroom that came with it three years ago. I like this house a lot, and there are a whole bunch of reasons why I wouldn’t want to move out of it. It’s not all about the bathroom. But right now, a lot of it is about the bathroom.

We would need more money, which means that I would need to think about taking on some evening work as well as my day job. And it might sound selfish, but I kind of value my quality of life over a hypothetical baby right now considering how hard everything has been during Baby Taylor’s first year and how sleep-deprived I still am. That’s just how it is right now, and how it will probably be for some time to come.

Okay, so actually laid out like that, it’s not a long list. But if you expand on the repercussions of just one of those things, the whole concept kind of takes on supernova status and suddenly I WANT ANOTHER BABY doesn’t really seem to hold much weight or make a whole lot of sense. Then there’s all of the stuff that wouldn’t so much change as change back.

Night feeds. Show of hands for everyone who hates night feeds as much as me? Yeah. Thought so. They’re shit, aren’t they? Particularly when bad experiences with Baby Taylor’s night feeds would mean a constant inner monologue of, “I wonder if s/he will actually go back to sleep when s/he is done...” I can’t even tell you how much I am done with night feeds.

Alongside night feeds... Explosive nappies in the middle of the night that get all over the bed and then the whole bed needs to be changed as well as the baby and the baby has shit in his/her hair and I have no fucking idea how it got there or what I’m supposed to do about it at 4AM and... NO. JUST NO.

The What The Fuck Is Wrong With You And Why Won’t You Sleep/Stop Crying/Eat guessing game. Because now Baby Taylor and I sort of understand each other well enough that most of the time he can find a way to tell me what he needs without screaming the house down about it and I usually figure out what he’s getting at pretty quickly. When he was a baby? Nope. And it was the same with Toddler Taylor, made even harder by the fact that he was my first baby and I had no bloody idea what I was actually doing.

Immunisations every four weeks. Absolutely necessary, of course. But “please don’t cuddle your baby until we’ve given both jabs”? Seriously... Fuck off with that right now.

Weight Clinic. Does anybody else come out in a cold sweat of panic every time they have to take a newish baby to weight clinic? Like, what if s/he’s not gaining enough weight? What if they tell me I’m doing something wrong? What if someone says FAILURE TO THRIVE? This has only become less of an issue for me since I bought my own set of scales to alleviate the fear of nasty surprises. I actually wish I was kidding about that, but HI. I’M NEUROTIC.

You know how people always tell you to “weigh up the pros and cons” whenever you’re feeling a bit on-the-fence about something? That’s my Could We Have Another New Baby cons list. Oh, and there’s one more: MY HUSBAND HAD A VASECTOMY IN MARCH AND WE CAN’T HAVE BABIES TOGETHER ANYWAY. I always somehow forget that one. It gets lost in the myriad of other cons, but then it always seems to be the one that flies back up and smacks me in the face because it’s the only one that really matters in the end. And a lot of the time I can see this for what it really is, rather than what my conscious mind would like me to believe it is. What I think this is actually about is how much I just did not enjoy Baby Taylor’s first few months, how guilty I feel about wishing that time away and how much I wish I could go back and find a way to not hate every second of it. It’s about me wanting to “fix” myself, and I think I always knew that I would feel that way. So my pros list would probably look something like this:

I could exorcise my I’m A Shitty Mother demons by doing an absolutely perfect job of nurturing and breastfeeding (I can’t even. It still kills me) and bonding with my new baby, then I might start feeling better about myself and stop obsessing over all of the things I regret that I can’t fucking change because it’s too late.

 But my selfish desire to not feel totally shit about the whole experience forever is not a good enough reason to bring another child into the world. Not at all. And it wouldn’t actually work anyway. I was going to do a better job of a lot of things with Baby Taylor than I did with Toddler Taylor and look how that turned out; I got thrown a curveball and that whole notion went to hell. If we’re going to start looking at it like that – and we shouldn’t, because I know it wasn’t my fault – the chances are it probably wouldn’t be any better or easier next time either. So it’s really a good thing that we can’t have more children, otherwise I might just end up forgetting all that and convince myself that it would be a smart idea to try again.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Stop Beating Yourself Up

There’s this thing mothers do that I also do, but don’t actually understand: We beat ourselves up for every tiny parenting mistake we make and convince ourselves that because we don’t get this crazy little thing called motherhood right 100% of the time, we must just be fucking terrible at it. There’s this constant running commentary in our heads that sounds something like this:

“He just asked me to play trains with him and I told him I was busy, what if he never asks me again? And he actually hung his head. HUNG HIS HEAD. I can’t believe I made my child feel like that. I’m the worst mother on the planet. And I yelled at him this morning because his room was a mess. And we haven’t read stories for three nights because he’s been so bloody horrendously naughty at bedtime. I don’t deserve to be a mother. I’m so awful.”

And then we do something  completely fatal; we promise ourselves that it will never happen again. And no one can live up to that. NO ONE. Because we will be too busy to play trains again. We will shout about the mess in the playroom again. We will refuse to read stories again because bedtime naughtiness actually just isn’t acceptable. So we create this vicious cycle of self-deprecation that might actually keep us up at night. It keeps me up sometimes. There are days when I cannot accept anyone telling me that I am a good mother, because all I can think about is all of the things they don’t know. These people don’t know how desperately I wanted to scream at my ten month-old when he knocked the spoon out of my hand for the millionth time in one meal. They don’t know that I shut my three year-old in the garden for two minutes when he was having a shrieking tantrum over nothing right in the middle of his brother’s afternoon nap. Would they think less of me if they did? I don’t know, but I absolutely convince myself that they would.

Here’s the strangest part in all of this, though: We are hugely uncomfortable with the idea of allowing a fellow mother to feel like she is not doing an amazing job. We can berate ourselves until the cows come home, but when somebody else does the same thing, all we want to do is offer our support and tell her that, in all likelihood, she is doing an amazing job. We all fuck up sometimes. We all shout at our kids when we’re tired and then hate ourselves for it. We all swear in their earshot at the end of a hard day and then worry that it might be the next word out of their mouths. We all lose sight of why we decided to become mothers in the first place during the tough times and the crippling sleep-deprivation and the absolute fucking lack of any consistent advice on any given topic related to child-rearing. And you know what? IT’S OKAY. We are not perfect and our children are not perfect and that is okay too.

Sometimes my friends with kids will ask me for parenting advice and it’s something I just dread. Not because I don’t want to help, but because I know that parenting isn’t a one-size-fits-all outfit. I actually really do want to help, but there is so much that I just don’t know about how to be a good mother and how to help my children do this or that that I don’t feel like it’s fair for me to offer any kind of wisdom to anybody else if it might not actually help them in the end anyway. Potty training is a glaring example of this. When I was trying to potty train Toddler Taylor I read every article and every thread I could possibly find related to the topic. I probably read 90% of what the internet has to offer when it comes to How To Potty Train Your Child. There was advice about using sticker charts, letting your child pick out their own underwear, having a potty in every room of the house, waiting until they tell you they’re actually ready... The list goes on forever. What actually worked in the end was giving up. Seriously. After I’d cleaned up the thousandth puddle of pee and washed the hundredth pair of shitty Thomas The Tank Engine pants, I sighed, sat Toddler Taylor down and said, “baby, I don’t think you’re ready for this yet and I don’t want to make you unhappy about it anymore. Let’s try again soon.” The next day, Toddler Taylor went off to playgroup and actually asked the play workers if he could use the toilet. Then he came home and did his first ever poo in the potty. And that was it; POTTY TRAINING COMPLETE. So I literally have no advice on that subject at all. I tell myself it was easy, but it wasn’t. When he decided he wanted to do it, then it was easy. Before that it was an unmitigated fucking nightmare and I can’t even really bring myself to remember it. But that doesn’t mean that your experience of potty training will be the same, and that’s why my advice probably isn’t often helpful to anybody else. Kids are unique little beings and they all have different needs and development levels and all you can really do is embrace that and try to figure them out as you go along.

The catalyst for this post is a post by another mother that I read earlier this week. All I wanted to do as I read that post was give the writer a hug because she reminded me so much of myself, and yet sometimes I have felt so alone in my belief that I am getting so many things wrong on this journey. I’m not going to say that it made me feel better to know that someone else was struggling, because it didn’t and that’s a fucking awful way to think. But it did make me feel like I am probably in pretty good company when it comes to the whole self-deprecation thing. And it also made me feel like maybe the best mothers are the ones who don’t get it right all the time, but who make mistakes and learn from them. If you have a meltdown in front of your kids and you don’t acknowledge how bad it made you feel for them to see you like that then maybe you haven’t realised that it probably isn’t something you should be doing all that often. But, at the same time, most mothers have to accept that it will happen every now and again. Your kids might remember it depending on their age, but kids aren’t judgemental creatures and they love you. They will forgive you for not being perfect, probably a whole lot quicker than you will forgive yourself.

I’m not here to give advice. My parting shot is this: Be kind to yourself, as kind as you would be to another mother who felt like a failure over something. All you can do when it comes to raising children is your best, and if you know that you are doing your best then you can stop asking impossible things of yourself – endless patience being top of that list in my case – and focus less on being “PERFECT” and more on being “GOOD ENOUGH”. When you think about it, who decided on the perfect way to be a mother? A bunch of random people who you’ve never met and who don’t know your children, so if you look at it like that... What the fuck do they know about what it takes to be “perfect” anyway?

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Job Wars

I keep having this argument with my husband every couple of weeks at the moment and I’m starting to go batshit crazy about it, even though I’m pretty sure it’s an argument that all parents have with each other on a semi-regular basis. The argument is this: WHO HAS THE HARDEST JOB? You see, my husband and I both have two jobs. One of them is the job we do out of necessity; the one that brings in the money to pay the mortgage and feed our family. The other one is the job we chose together back in 2011 when we decided to try for a baby. My husband goes out to work five days out of the week, stays home alone with the kids one day a week and co-parents with me on the other day. I go out to work two days a week (unless I have to fill in for someone somewhere), stay home alone with the kids four days a week and co-parent with my husband on the other day. So who has the harder job? Well, hereabouts I need to put some things into perspective.

You all know the story of Baby Taylor, which means that you all know that I haven’t slept more than five hours a night in about nine and a half months (because now, of course, Baby Taylor is finally kinda sorta sleeping through the night. Halle-fucking-lujah!). So for nine and a half months I have been sleep-deprived. My husband is a “modern man” in a lot of ways (I use quotations marks here because I really don’t get why for some men, the willingness and ability to change a nappy should earn them some kind of badge of honour among their womenfolk), but he has never shared the burden of the night shift with me. When I was breastfeeding, his rationale was that he couldn’t really do a whole lot to help, so he might as well just sleep through it. When I had to switch Baby Taylor to formula – reflux, blah, blah; you’ve heard it already – he still somehow figured that it wasn’t his job to ever be awake in the night. And now he just shrugs and says, “I don’t hear him wake up and you do, so you might as well go”. So, yeah, I’ve spent quite a few months feeling on-the-brink-of-insanity tired. On top of this, I went back to work two months ago. So on some of those nights when I hadn’t actually managed more than a few hours' sleep between trips back and forth to settle Baby Taylor, I then had to get up and go to work and try to remember how to do my job when I wasn’t actually sure if my pants were even on the right way out because I was Just. That. TIRED.

And then there are the days when it’s just me on my own with the kids from just after two in the afternoon until bedtime. And that’s probably fine with one child – even accounting for sleep-deprivation -, but with two it’s... Well, sometimes it’s not. Because I love spending time with my children. Of course I do. BUT – collective sharp intake of breath from non-parent readership – sometimes looking after children is exhausting and wearing and actually really fucking hard work. Sometimes I would actually rather be at work than trying to occupy a boisterous three year-old while his ten month-old brother disappears under the coffee table for the umpteenth time because he just hasn’t figured out how to crawl in the right direction quite yet. Sometimes I’d like to be able to get on with some cleaning or laundry without worrying what the ominous crash in the playroom just now was all about and if Baby Taylor was also involved in the disaster. Because that’s what parenting is like. It’s none stop. And then it’s bath time and both kids are crying because the big one is tired and also cross that he has to stop playing and the little one is hungry and crabby. Coaxing Toddler Taylor into pyjamas whilst trying to persuade Baby Taylor to finish his milk sometimes feels like the most insurmountable task in the world. But finally they’re in bed and now I can sit and vegetate in front of the TV for a couple of hours... But wait! There’s still that huge pile of ironing to do and all three of the laundry bins in the house are overflowing, even though I’m sure I literally did a load of washing like, two days ago. So I’ll do that first, and then suddenly it’s 11PM and I need to go to bed RIGHT FUCKING NOW otherwise I will not be able to make it up the stairs.

I’m really lucky. Both sets of grandparents are on hand most of the time, standing by for an emergency . Mostly because they’ve already seen what happens when I go into meltdown and nobody wants to deal with that ever again, ever. But even grandparental aid poses its own unique set of problems, because Toddler Taylor gets excited when grandma or nana turn up around bath time and he metamorphoses from a knackered out little boy into... Well, remember Hurryup from Stopit and Tidyup? Yeah. Pretty much that. And then I have to become Shouty Mummy and threaten him with NO STORIES and NO FRIENDS IN BED and I actually just fucking hate being Shouty Mummy because it’s a really shit way to end the day. But without help from grandma and nana, some nights I really don’t know how I would cope. I know I would, but probably not well.

So who has the hardest job? Maybe it’s not so much about that as it is about whoever goes out to paid work – because feminism – accepting and acknowledging that whoever gets left at home with the small people is probably having a pretty hard time too. There are always moments throughout the day when your children are both/all being lovely at the same time and you can’t imagine for a second that you would ever want to be anywhere other than right here with them. But those moments are just that; MOMENTS. If they happened all the time they wouldn’t be nearly so precious. The rest of time, being a parent is hard work. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever do, which is not to say that it isn’t worth it because it absolutely is. But when you’re the primary care-giver, the job you do is shaping a little person into a grown-up human and helping them find their way through the first years of their life, and that is a MONUMENTAL undertaking. My husband defers to me all decisions to do with the kids, which means that on some level, he must recognise that I am better equipped to make those decisions than he is. Why, then, is my job as a parent any less challenging than his job as the main earner?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Baby Sleep

So, here's something I've been thinking about a lot lately: Baby sleep. If you've ever read a parenting magazine (and there are a few to choose from), you will have noticed that every single month there is an article advertised on the cover that promises 5 SLEEP TIPS THAT WILL HAVE YOUR BABY SLEEPING THROUGH TONIGHT or GOLDEN SLEEP RULES EVERY PARENT SHOULD KNOW or some other patronising tagline that 100% promises you that your baby will sleep well from this day forward and NEVER fucking delivers. Ever. Every single one of these articles follows the same basic premise, which is to make you, as a mother, feel like you are doing everything wrong when it comes to getting your baby to sleep.

Can I please have a show of hands for anyone who has ever done that ridiculous fucking shush-pat crap and found that it actually worked? How about pick-up-put-down? Controlled crying? See, I’ve tried all of these things and the only thing that has ever actually worked for me when it comes to making sure Baby Taylor goes to sleep when I want him to is this formula:

He needs to have been awake for at least two and a half to three hours.
He needs to have been recently fed and have a clean, dry nappy.
He needs to be showing actual signs that he is tired (a little yawning, eye-rubbing or general grizzling is usually a good indication).
He needs to be in a very dark room with a white noise machine running constantly.
He needs a dummy and he needs to be swaddled.

That’s it, and I know that it sounds like a lot, but most of it is just basic common sense. Babies are just small humans, and they function in basically the same way. If you’re hungry, thirsty, uncomfortable or just not tired, are you likely to go to sleep just because somebody else thinks you should? No. So why would you expect your baby to? Why do all parenting publications seem to base their sleep-related articles on the assumption that all people who have babies are morons?

For my part, Baby Taylor is almost ten months old now and, until last week, he had only slept through the night a handful of times. I used to blame reflux and then I got to feeling like maybe it was just habit and maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t a great sleeper. Toddler Taylor was a fantastic sleeper as a baby, and I did all of the same things with him that I have with his brother. So I’ve arrived at the shocking conclusion that maybe babies are just a lot like their adult counterparts; maybe some of them are good sleepers and some of them aren’t and maybe there’s not much you can about a crappy sleeper except ride out the storm and rejoice when they actually sleep well.

Sometimes I actually read the baby sleep articles and find myself feeling aggressively infuriated by them, because they are usually just a rehash of the same generic bullshit, and what really fucking annoys me more than anything else is that they always try to tell me that if I don’t take Baby Taylor’s dummy away from him RIGHT THIS MINUTE then he will never, ever, EVER sleep, ever. If I let him have his dummy – the dummy that helps calm his reflux and makes him feel comforted – for one more night, I will, without doubt, find that he is still waking in the night at 18 wanting it. Can you imagine a more ridiculous concept? Toddler Taylor had a dummy for naps and night time sleep until he was two, then one night I just didn’t give it to him when I put him down to bed. He asked for it a couple of times and I had to go into his room half an hour later to give him a cuddle and reassure him that he hadn’t done anything wrong, but the point is this: At two years old, he understood when I reassured him. Baby Taylor would not understand if I just suddenly didn’t give him his dummy one night when I put him in his cot. He would think I had forgotten (which I sometimes do) and he would cry and whinge and yell until I went and gave it to him. Why would I put either of us through that? Where are the 18 year-olds who still need dummies to sleep? I need to meet them, hear them say “it’s all my mother’s fucking fault for letting me have it when I was a baby” and then I might pay some attention to idiotic articles proclaiming that sleep aids are The Devil Himself.

I’m not even going to go into the things that come up when you type “baby sleep tips” into Google, but invariably you will end up on a message board or chat forum populated by other parents, some of whom think they have all the answers and will tell you that you are basically a complete failure of a human being and why don’t you try doing the pick-up-put-down dance for another 27million hours until you’re so completely sleep-deprived that you can’t even remember your own name or how to put on your knickers. Believe me, I have talked to these people – usually women, sorry – and I am doing everything wrong. Allegedly, Baby Taylor is going to suffocate because I still put him in a swaddling bag and he often sleeps on his front or side OR he is never going to sleep through because of the Devil Dummy.

So now I just approach baby sleep like this: Mothers of the world, keep doing whatever you’re doing to get your baby to sleep because (and I am only going to say this once, so listen carefully) they are NOT still going to need you to do it when they’re 18. Ignore the articles and the message boards and the self-important “experts” and trust yourself. It’s really unlikely that anyone who doesn’t know your baby knows better than you what they need to “sleep through”. Which, by the way, is only actually considered to be five consecutive hours anyway. Don’t even get me started on how five hours is NOT fucking “sleeping through”.